The Dream by Gillan Drew
The new parents looked up as the midwife entered the room, the little bundle in her arms wrapped in a white blanket.
‘Here she is!’ she announced cheerily. ‘Who wants to be the first to hold her?’
‘I’ll have her,’ said Stephanie, over on the bed. She wore a light blue dressing gown over her hospital smock – it made her face, pale from blood loss and the ordeal of the birth, look grey in the strip lighting.
‘Be sure to support her head,’ said the midwife, a broad fifty-something with a Geordie accent.
The girl took her baby, careful to place the little one’s head in the crook of her arm, and looked down into her face.
‘Hello,’ said Stephanie. ‘I’m your mummy.’
‘Do you have a name picked out for her?’ the midwife asked.
‘That’s a lovely name.’
‘Tom chose it, didn’t you, Tom?’
Slumped in a chair in the corner, his face as pale as his wife’s and black bags under his eyes, Tom merely grunted.
‘Do you want to see her?’ the midwife asked.
Tom shook his head. ‘I’m good,’ he said.
‘Really,’ said Tom.
Stephanie rocked the baby in her arms. ‘How much does she weigh?’
‘Eight pounds,’ said the midwife. ‘A good size.’
‘You hear that?’ the girl said, nuzzling close to her daughter. ‘You’re a good size. No wonder mummy found it so hard to get you out.’
It had been a horrible labour, coming on the end of a horrible pregnancy. Nine months of morning sickness and mood swings had given way to twenty-six hours of agony, which culminated in an injection into Stephanie’s spine, followed by a ventouse suction cup on the baby’s head and, ultimately, forceps. She was still numb below the chest, unable to get off the bed.
Looking over at Tom, Stephanie smiled. ‘She has your nose,’ she said. ‘My good looks, of course. She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. You need to come look at her.’
Tom shook his head again.
Unfazed, Stephanie pushed up the woolly pink hat on Cora’s head. ‘Dark hair! Like your daddy.’
‘They normally lose that in the first few months,’ said the midwife. ‘Then it grows back the colour it’s going to be.’
‘What colour are her eyes?’
‘I imagine they’re blue,’ said the midwife. ‘They normally are with newborns. Do you want me to have a look?’
‘No, that’s okay,’ said Stephanie. Reaching inside the blanket, Stephanie pulled out Cora’s hand. ‘Look at those little fingers,’ she said. ‘They’re so perfect.’ She looked over at Tom again. ‘I can’t believe we managed to make something so perfect.’
Tom looked away.
‘Please come and meet her,’ said Stephanie, and for the first time her voice started to crack. ‘Please don’t be like this.’
‘You really should come and hold her,’ the midwife urged.
‘Why?’ Tom asked. ‘What’s the point?’
Stephanie let out a sob.
Sighing, Tom studied his feet for a few moments before his shoulders sagged. ‘Fine,’ he said, standing in one swift movement. His legs ached from all those hours standing by the bedside, flitting between hope and despair.
‘Thank you,’ Stephanie whispered, her eyes glazing with tears.
‘I won’t be holding her long,’ he replied. ‘I’m only doing this for you.’
‘You’re doing it for all of you,’ said the midwife as Stephanie eased the little bundle into Tom’s arms.
‘Careful of her head,’ she said.
‘I know,’ Tom replied. He’d practiced for months on dolls and teddy bears and in his dreams – he knew exactly what to do.
He was struck by how light Cora was. Stephanie had put on almost two stone during the pregnancy, and the baby was only a quarter of that. And she was no bigger than a rugby ball, when Stephanie had been huge – still was, he thought, as though Cora was still inside, still waiting to be born.
There was a tight band about his chest and the lump in his throat burned, but he wasn’t going to cry. They were watching him. They were expecting something of him. So eventually he had to look down, had to engage with this, loathe as he was to do so.
Stephanie was right – his daughter was beautiful. Between the rough white of the hospital blanket under her chin and the pink hat pulled down almost to her eyes, she had the face of an angel. Long, dark eyelashes, full lips, and she did have his nose. Her skin was impossibly smooth, free of the slightest blemish. And her purple fingernails, so delicate, her fingerprints, the little dimples of her knuckles – he could have lost himself contemplating the mysteries of how they’d been able to create something so complex, so pure.
The hands those hands would hold, the fingers that would intertwine with hers. The smiles that would crease those lips. The things she would see, smell, touch, taste. The life she would live – what a life.
The ticking of the clock on the wall, the distant hum of the traffic on the spur road, cut into his thoughts. Years later, he would still be haunted by their indifference.
‘Talk to her,’ the midwife urged.
‘What should I say?’
‘Whatever your heart is telling you to say.’
He turned away from the others, gently squeezed his baby girl, gazed into her cherubic face, half Stephanie’s, half his, and he wet his lips.
‘I would have been your dad,’ he said quietly, rocking her softly from side to side. He puffed out his cheeks, fought back the tears. ‘I would give anything to have been your dad.’
‘You were her dad,’ said the midwife. ‘You are.’
‘I would have been,’ said Tom. He sniffed, tried to compose himself. ‘So what happens now?’
‘Well, I can leave you alone with her, if you’d like. There’s some paperwork to be filled out, I’m afraid, but we can sort all of that out later. For now, take some time as a family.’
Tom nodded and the midwife opened the door. ‘I’ll be back to collect her in a few minutes.’ She hesitated in the doorway. ‘The way to look at it,’ she said, ‘is that she was just born sleeping. That’s all. She was born sleeping.’
‘Do you think that helps?’
‘I do,’ said the midwife, and closed the door.
The look on Stephanie’s face broke Tom’s heart, and it was all he could do not to break down.
‘Is it true?’ she asked. ‘Is she just sleeping?’
Tom clenched his jaw. The lump in his throat was choking him. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘She’s just sleeping. We’d best not wake her.’
Taking a deep breath, he placed Cora on the bed alongside her mother, watched as she gazed lovingly down at the little baby and gently stroked her cheek.
‘You’re so small,’ she said. ‘So beautiful. And mummy loves you very much. I’ll be here when you wake. I’ll be waiting for you forever.’ She looked at Tom. ‘Tell her you love her.’
Wiping his eyes, he managed to say, ‘I love you, sweetheart.’
‘And you’ll be there for her when she wakes up.’
‘My heart will be waiting forever for you to wake,’ he said, before, overcome, he buried his head in Stephanie’s belly, as he’d done a thousand times since they found out they were expecting.
When his sobs had finally subsided, he felt her fingers in his hair. ‘What do you think she’s dreaming of?’ Stephanie asked, so softly he almost didn’t hear her.
He looked at Cora through his tears, so peaceful, so serene. ‘I think she’s dreaming of us,’ he said. ‘She’s dreaming of all the love we’re going to give her, all the things she’s going to experience. We’re digging a sandcastle and she’s decorating it with shells. She’s playing with her toys and laughing because I’m making funny faces, and she’s cuddling her mummy and smiling because she knows she’s safe. She’s dreaming of castles and mountains and forests, horses running across the plains, and we’re always with her. Her heart is full, fit to burst with the love we share.’
He felt exhausted, battling to get the words out against the pain searing in his neck and chest.
‘Her heart is full,’ he repeated.
Stephanie continued to stroke Cora’s cheek. ‘It’s a good dream,’ she said.
‘She’s safe there, and happy, and she never has to grow up.’
Stephanie smiled, though there were tears streaming down her cheeks. ‘Then maybe it’s okay if she never wakes up. She can live forever in her dream.’
‘Yes,’ said Tom. ‘And she can visit us in ours.’
‘Then I’ll never want to wake up.’
‘Me neither,’ said Tom, and lying down on the bed beside his wife and daughter, he closed his eyes to sleep.
Copyright, Gillan Drew, 2015.